Blindside hit from Suggs hurts Big Ben

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger left Sunday's game against Baltimore with an
unspecified rib injury not long after being leveled while throwing
a touchdown pass in the third quarter.

Roethlisberger had just released a 2-yard scoring pass to tight
end Jerame Tuman and was looking to his left when defensive end
Terrell Suggs blindsided him, driving the left side of
Roethlisberger's head into the ground.

A shaken-up Roethlisberger was assisted off the field, a large
clump of grass sticking out of the left side of his face mask.

Roethlisberger returned for the next offensive series and
completed throws of 26 yards to Plaxico Burress and 9 to Jerome
Bettis, but was replaced by Tommy Maddox after 2-yard run by Bettis
early in the fourth quarter.

"He felt he could still throw it, but after the one pass to
Plaxico, it really bothered him," coach Bill Cowher said. "But
before we were able to get another running play called, we got the
screen (pass) called."

It was the first time Maddox played since injuring an elbow
Sept. 19 against Baltimore. Roethlisberger replaced Maddox as the
starter a week later and has yet to lose in 13 NFL starts.

Roethlisberger threw some practice passes behind the bench after
being pulled, but Cowher said he was only staying loose in case
Maddox was hurt.

"Our third quarterback was (wide receiver Antwaan Randle) El at
that point, so that is why we had to keep Ben ready, just in case
we had to have him hand off if something would have happened to
Tommy," Cowher said.

With the Steelers (14-1) owning home-field advantage throughout
the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye, it seems unlikely they
would risk playing Roethlisberger in Buffalo on Sunday even if his
injury is minor.

Suggs was penalized for roughing the passer, but the play did
not lead to any incidents between the AFC North rivals. Cowher
didn't think Suggs was trying to hurt Roethlisberger, though it
appeared Suggs could have pulled back and not hit the quarterback.

"I have a lot of respect for the Baltimore Ravens," Cowher
said. "They have some class people there. ... I know this is a
rivalry, a dislike that takes place on the field, but when the game
is over there is a lot of respect that exists."

Since the Steelers don't play another meaningful game for three
weeks, Roethlisberger's teammates are optimistic he'll be ready for
the playoffs.

"Ben is a tough guy," running back Jerome Bettis said. "I am
not worried about the guy. He wanted to keep going -- I really think
they stopped him from going on. He's a competitor."

The Steelers also hope to get injured linebacker Clark Haggans
(groin), running back Duce Staley (hamstring), linebacker Kendrell
Bell (groin) and cornerback Chad Scott (hamstring) healthy by the
playoffs. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (hamstring) returned Sunday
to catch a touchdown pass after sitting out four games.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend broke his right hand Sunday, but said
he can play with a protective cast.

"We've been winning a lot of games with a lot of guys hurt,"
linebacker Joey Porter said. "Now we're going to get all of our
guys healthy for the playoffs."